Scarlet and Cress

Scarlet

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

Linh Cinder has busted out of prison in New Beijing with fellow prison Carswell Thorne in tow, and now has the entire Eastern Commonwealth, Emperor Kai and Queen Levana on the search for her. Meanwhile, in a small town in France, Scarlet Benoit is searching for her lost grandmother, Michelle, who everyone believes has run away and committed suicide. But she knows here grandmother wouldn’t do that. While looking for her, she encounters Wolf, a lone street fighter and he joins her on her search. He says he may have some information about Scarlet’s grandmother, but can she really trust him? Eventually Cinder and Scarlet’s paths collide as they find out they are searching for the same person. Can Michelle Benoit be the key to unraveling Cinder’s past and future? Will Cinder be able to escape Queen Levana and save Kai from the Queen’s evil clutches? To find out, read the exciting second volume in The Lunar Chronicles series. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

I was excited to find out, when I picked up this second volume, that it wasn’t just the Cinderella story that was being retold, but a new one was added for each book in the series. In order to introduce Scarlet and Wolf, Cinder pretty much takes a back seat in this volume. We are also introduced to Carswell Thorne, a rakish rogue character (reminds me a bit of Han Solo) who escaped and teamed up with Cinder and whose ship she is on for the majority of the book.

This one, as you can tell from the book cover, is about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but with a bit of a twist. Scarlet is a teenage pilot and works on her grandma’s farm, and it is near instant attraction when she meets Wolf even if she is wary of him and his attentions towards her. I would’ve liked to hear more about the grandmother, Michelle Benoit, and her exploits involving the lunars. Wolf is a street fighter (I’m not hugely fond of this term, I would say he’s more of a fights in illegal underground matches for money – street fighter always reminds me of the video game of the same name) and engineered soldier who fights against his “programming” and falls in love with Red (aka Scarlet) almost against his will. At the same time, however, Scarlet is basically going through Stockholm Syndrome by falling in love with her captor. However, they do go through a lot together and he’s essentially being forced by the Lunars to kidnap her and take her hostage. Plus there’s just the whole sexy wolf thing, can’t explain it, it’s just there and I like it. 

Cress

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Linh Cinder, Scarlet Benoit, Wolf, and Carswell Thorne are traveling together on Carswell’s stolen ship, trying to evade the Eastern Commonwealth and Queen Levana’s troops. They also plan to overthrow Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth. Cinder and the gang are watched and aided by Cress, the prisoner of Sybil, thaumaturge to Queen Levana. She lives in a satellite orbiting earth and has been helping Cinder and the gang hide from the other lunars (especially the Queen). Cinder and the rest decide to rescue Cress but things don’t exactly go as planned. Kai in order to save his people from more deaths and destruction has reluctantly agreed to marry Levana, even though he loathes the woman. As Cinder becomes more aware of her role as Princess and how best to serve the lunar people, a daring plan forms to save Kai from marriage to Levana and stop the queen. Will they be able to succeed? To find out, read this exciting third volume in The Lunar Chronicles series. 5 stars. 

This book was a twist on the Rapunzel story, the difference being Rapunzel is a teenage girl who has been trapped in a satellite (I can’t even imagine how stir crazy she would get). She has been trapped for the past ten years by a lunar thaumaturge and forced to help Queen  Levana in all her nefarious plots against the Earthans. Cress has been saved from insanity by being able to access the Net, becoming a master hacker, and even creating a companion. Even though Cress’s character was a little sad, I thought she was a fun and spunky to the existing group of main characters. 

Rebecca Soler did a fabulous job with the narration again, especially as there are so many different nationalities in the cast of characters. I can’t believe that the author tried to kill off three main characters in the first three CDs! It made the beginning of the book super exciting and hard to stop listening to. Then there was the torture, which thankfully wasn’t as graphic as say Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (which I loved but was a bit hard to read at times). My biggest complaint with the book is the length. Thirteen disks is pretty long for a teen novel and the story was dragging a bit in the middle. It felt like the author was trying to cram too much story into one book. That being said, it was definitely action-packed and kept you on the edge of your seat and wanting to hear what happened next. 

This book was great for further character development. I really got to like Cress. She was so unused to being around anyone and to have been thrust into the situation she was so quickly and be able to adapt despite all the crazy stuff that kept happening really made me admire her. I loved the blossoming romance between Cress and Thorne, it was literally squeal-worthy! I liked Wolf as a teacher trying to help Cinder control her mind-commanding powers. He stayed mostly dark and broody the whole book, mostly because he was unconscious for a good part of it, but I loved it when he admitted to Cress that Scarlet “was his alpha, like the brightest star in a constellation.” I also loved that Kai was thinking about Cinder and secretly glad that she has evaded capture for so long, and was given some hope (despite the future prospect of being married to the evil Queen Levana) because of his thinking that Cinder was looking for Princess Selene.  And when Kai and Cinder finally got together, was awkward and fantastic (i.e. totally brilliant). 

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And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White

To be published: June 28, 2016

Lada is the daughter of Vlad Draculesti, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Only he is not pleased to have a girl as she is not pretty enough to be married off for an advantage. She is trained from an early age to fight and Vlad recognizes that strength in her and is proud of her viciousness, but not enough to give her love or attention. Her younger brother Radu is handsome, fair and meek, everything is sister is not. But their father doesn’t care for him either. So it is not surprising that Vlad, the ruler of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in Southern Romania, uses his two children as bartering chips with the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad. Lada and Radu spend the majority of their childhood in Eridne in the palace, learning to survive in a place and with a religion not their own. Eventually they become friends with Mehmed, the third son the Sultan, and it is he who changes their life forever. Will Lada finally get the recognition and power that she deserves? Will Radu finally come into his own and become his own man and not an extension of his sister? To find out, read the exciting first book in The Conqueror’s Saga. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I adored this book. I’ve been fascinated with the Ottomans for awhile now and I love stories that are twists on the original. Everyone pretty much knows who Vlad Dracul is, but to imagine his daughter (a noblewoman in 15th century Romania) as the brutal vicious one is a definite twist. It’s so rare to find such a richly detailed story, with a non-preachy view on religions (especially Islam), and such complex characters. In fact, the author made Islam sound really peaceful and centering, like I think it really is based on my studying of it. The executioner being labeled “the head gardener” was an interesting concept for me, as was the knowledge that it was the Ottomans (or more accurately the Ancient Mesopotamians who preceded them), not the Wallochians, who came up with the idea to impale people as punishment. The fratricide law that Mehmed enacts at the end of the book was based on historical fact and did basically give the sultan the right to get rid of his male siblings so that

Lada’s character is fascinating and it’s nice to hear about a rather unconventional heroine who is not flawlessly beautiful and is bitter and vengeful and ready to kick ass and take no prisoners. And she has a right to be, as life has always been hard on her and she really has no one to confide in about her deepest darkest feelings, even though she can barely admit those to herself. She is manipulative and strong and feisty and someone I would want to fight for me.

Radu is completely different from her in a way – he is softness and civility, to Lada’s anger and violence. He gains power not by force but by being charming, sophisticated and courtly. He has to hide the biggest part of himself to survive. But they both want the best for Mehmed, even though they disagree on what exactly that is. And they both love him, something I know he is aware of and does exploit to his better end.

My biggest gripe with this book was how much the story got bogged down in the middle with politics. I’m all for story-building but I felt that the author could’ve skipped a bunch of not vitally important stuff to get to more meatier parts. I hadn’t seen that it was part of a trilogy until I was about to write this review. I’m not surprised as the author has set up way too much of the story for it to be a single volume, plus I’m interested to see where she goes from here with it. It was just starting to get good, with Lada finally coming to terms that she might actually have some real power, Radu learning that even though he can never openly show his feelings for the sultan, he can still be around to protect and advise him, and Mehmed finally becoming the ruler he is meant to be.

Grayling’s Song

Graylings Song

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

Published: June 7th, 2016

Grayling’s mother, Hannah Strong, a wise woman who provides medicine and small spells for the local village, has been turned into a tree by an unseen force. It is up to Grayling to rescue her and return with her Grimoire, Hannah’s book of spells. She is soon joined by a shape-shifting mouse named Pook and a weather witch and her grumpy apprentice, an enchantress and a wizard. Grayling must learn to believe in herself and brave a hostile world in order to free her mother and the other magic users whose grimoires have been stolen. Recommended for ages 9-12, 2-1/2 stars. 

I picked this book up because Pook sounded adorable (he’s probably my favorite character) and the story seemed an intriguing coming of age story. Plus I love Karen Cushman’s work, especially Alchemy and Meggy Swan, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Midwife’s Apprentice. So I had high hopes for this one as well. But I couldn’t get into it, so much so that I almost didn’t read it because it lost my attention very early on. Once the story got going, it was a little bit better. Hannah Strong obviously does not support her daughter or believe in her abilities, and therefore Grayling has very low self-esteem and no great opinion of herself. As someone who has struggled with this issue myself, I know how disheartening it can be and how limiting, and I hate to see girls undermined in books. But it is a quest story and Grayling does grow and come into her own by the end of the tale. The characters, as a whole, seem a little underdeveloped and the only one that Grayling had any attachment to was Auld Nancy, the weather witch. The author left the story rather open-ended, possibly paving the way for a sequel later on. 

Disclaimer: I received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publishers,  Clarion Books, via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.